It has been reported that 36 districts are facing food shortages. The poor rains mean harvests have been poor and livestock have not been as productive.
The spin off from this, we can expect a jump in inflation in coming months and as the Bank of Uganda scrambles to contain that an increase in lending rates will follow, restricting borrowing, business growth and leading to distressed companies.
The long and short of it we should not be oblivious to the plight of these distressed districts.
But we need to ask, how is it that a country with 20 percent of its surface under water and almost half the region’s arable land ever have food insecurity issues?
There are many factors but the one bandied around most is that most of Uganda’s agriculture is dominated by small holder, low productivity farms.
These farmers who are mostly subsistence farmers due to land tenure systems and low adoption of modern agricultural methods are barely eking out a living.
Interventions by the state have been haphazard and sporadic and failed to improve productivity. While others point to the low investment in agriculture as at the back of the sectors woes.
"Both sides are correct but like the blind men set the task of describing the elephant they are each snatching at parts of the problem without appreciating the whole...
At the bottom of the low productivity of our farms is the poor farming methods of our farms. We are talking of such basic things as spacing, use of manure and basic irrigation.
On Tuesday in our Harvest Money pullout which was dedicated to irrigation I learnt that one can dig a pit among a cluster of plants and fill with water at least twice a week and it will irrigate the surrounding plants. To take it a step further you can fill it with compost manure and as the water sips out into the surrounding farm will carry along with it nutrients from the manure.
We are not talking about cutting edge fertilisers and sprinkling gizmos. Basic improvements in our farm practices can cause significant improvements in productivity and that is before you look at improved seeds and increased application of fertilizer.
"According to a World Economic Forum research done in east Africa irrigation increases productivity by 90 percent compared to farms which don’t employ irrigation, fertiliser increases yields by 61 percent and the use of mobile based market information can raise incomes by up to 30 percent.
Increased productivity will lead to a need for markets. Small farmers can be encouraged to form cooperatives to bulk their produce to better negotiate in the market....
So why isn’t this all happening?
It is happening because our farmers don’t know better.
When we talk about investing in agriculture, arguably the single best investment we can make is in extension services – some studies have shown returns on investment in extension services of more than 80 percent.
According to agriculture ministry numbers only 700,000 of the four million agriculture households had been in contact with an extension service worker. At the Kakira sugar plantations they have one extension worker for every 90 farmers. Going by that we should have at least 40,000 extension workers scoring the countryside helping our farmers improve their methods.
There are issues of market failure but that those are a lesser problem to the low productivity of our farms.
It should be obvious by now. Our people are being caught seemingly unawares by and unable to cope with the changes in the weather for lack of information. Radio announcements and indifferent politicians will not spread the word.